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Kingdom of Magadha
मगध राज्यशासन

c. 1200 BC–321 BC
Expansion of the Magadha state in the 6th-4th centuries BCE
Capital Rajagriha, then Pataliputra (Modern day Patna)
Languages Old Indic Languages (e.g. Magadhi Prakrit, Maithili, Other Prakrits, Sanskrit)
Religion Hinduism
Government Absolute Monarchy as described in the Arthashastra
Historical era Antiquity
 -  Established c. 1200 BC
 -  Disestablished 321 BC
Currency Panas
Today part of  India
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Magadha (Sanskrit: मगध; IAST: Magadha) formed one of the sixteen Mahā-Janapadas (Sanskrit: "Great Countries") or kingdoms in ancient India. The core of the kingdom was the area of Bihar south of the Ganges; its first capital was Rajagriha (modern Rajgir) then Pataliputra (modern Patna). Rajagriha was initially known as 'Girivrijja' and later came to be known as so during the reign of Ajatashatru. Magadha expanded to include most of Bihar and Bengal with the conquest of Licchavi and Anga respectively,[1] followed by much of eastern Uttar Pradesh and Orissa. The ancient kingdom of Magadha is heavily mentioned in Jain and Buddhist texts. It is also mentioned in the Ramayana, Mahabharata, Puranas. A state of Magadha, possibly a tribal kingdom, is recorded in Vedic texts much earlier in time than 600BCE.

The earliest reference to the Magadha people occurs in the Atharva-Veda where they are found listed along with the Angas, Gandharis, and Mujavats. Magadha played an important role in the development of Jainism and Buddhism, and two of India's greatest empires, the Maurya Empire and Gupta Empire, originated from Magadha. These empires saw advancements in ancient India's science, mathematics, astronomy, religion, and philosophy and were considered the Indian "Golden Age". The Magadha kingdom included republican communities such as the community of Rajakumara. Villages had their own assemblies under their local chiefs called Gramakas. Their administrations were divided into executive, judicial, and military functions.


The Magadha state c. 600 BC, before it expanded

The kingdom of the Magadha roughly corresponds to the modern districts of Patna, Jehanabad, Nalanda, Aurangabad, Nawadah and Gaya in southern Bihar, and parts of Bengal in the east. It was bounded on the north by the river Ganges, on the east by the river Champa, on the south by the Vindhya mountains and on the west by the river Sone. During the Buddha’s time and onward, its boundaries included Anga.[citation needed] This region of Greater Magadha had a culture and religious beliefs of its own that predated the sanatan dharma. Much of the second urbanisation took place here from c. 500 BCE onwards and it was here that Jainism became strong and Buddhism arose. The importance of Magadha's culture can be seen in that both Buddhism and Jainism adopted some of its features, most significantly a belief in rebirth and karmic retribution.[2] Early Jaina and Brahmanical scriptures describe varieties of ascetic practices that are based on shared assumptions. These assumptions included the belief that liberation can be achieved through knowledge of the self. These practices and their underlying assumptions were present in the culture of Greater Magadha at an early date and are likely to have influenced Jainism and other religions. The belief in rebirth and karmic retribution was an important feature in later developments in Indian religion and philosophy.[citation needed]

Recorded History[edit]

There is little certain information available on the early rulers of Magadha. The most important sources are the Hindu Puranas, the Buddhist Pāli Canon and Chronicles of Sri Lanka, and Jain texts. Based on these sources, it appears that Magadha was ruled by the Haryanka dynasty for some 200 years, c. 600 BC – 413 BC.

The Mahabharata calls Brihadratha the first ruler of Magadha. The second book of the Mahabharata, the Sabha Parva also includes the story of how Krishna kills king Jarasandha of Magadha, allegedly to stop him from making human sacrifices of 95 kings Jarasandha had captured.

Siddhartha Gautama, the founder of Buddhism, was born in Kapilavastu in the ancient Shakya clan (an area in modern-day Nepal[3]) in the 6th or 5th century BC, a tribal territory which was later absorbed by Kosala.

As the scene of many incidents in his life, including his enlightenment, Magadha is often considered a blessed land. King Bimbisara of the Haryanka dynasty led an active and expansive policy, conquering Anga in what is now West Bengal.

The death of King Bimbisara was at the hands of his son, Prince Ajatashatru. King Pasenadi (Prasenajit), king of neighbouring Kosala and brother-in-law of King Bimbisara, promptly retook the gift of the Kashi province, triggering a war between Kosala and Magadha. Ajatashatru was trapped by an ambush and captured with his army. However, King Prasenajit allowed him and his army to return to Magadha, restored the province of Kashi, and even gave his daughter in marriage to the new young king.

Accounts differ slightly as to the cause of King Ajatashatru's war with the Licchavi republic, an area north of the river Ganges. It appears that Ajatashatru sent a minister to the area who for three years worked to undermine the unity of the Licchavis. To launch his attack across the Ganges River, Ajatashatru built a fort at the town of Pataliputra. Torn by disagreements the Licchavis fought with Ajatashatru. It took fifteen years for Ajatashatru to defeat them. Jain texts tell how Ajatashatru used two new weapons: a catapult, and a covered chariot with swinging mace that has been compared to a modern tank. Pataliputra began to grow as a center of commerce and became the capital of Magadha after Ajatashatru's death.

The Haryanka dynasty was overthrown by the Shishunaga dynasty. The last ruler of Shishunaga Dynasty, Kalasoka was assassinated by Mahapadma Nanda in 345 BC, the first of the so-called Nine Nandas (Mahapadma and his eight sons).

In 326 BC, the army of Alexander approached the western boundaries of Magadha. The army, exhausted and frightened at the prospect of facing another giant Indian army at the Ganges, mutinied at the Hyphasis (modern Beas) and refused to march further East. Alexander, after the meeting with his officer, Coenus, was persuaded that it was better to return and turned south, conquering his way down the Indus to the Ocean.

Around 321 BC, the Nanda Dynasty ended and Chandragupta became the first king of the great Mauryan Dynasty and Mauryan Empire with the help of Vishnugupta. The Empire later extended over most of Southern Asia under King Ashoka, who was at first known as 'Ashoka the Cruel' but later became a disciple of Buddhism and became known as 'Dhamma Ashoka'. Later, the Mauryan Empire ended, as did the Sunga and Khārabēḷa Empire, to be replaced by the Gupta Empire. The capital of the Gupta Empire remained Pataliputra, in Magadha.

Magadha Dynasties[edit]

Haryankasup dynasty[edit]

According to tradition, the Haryanka dynasty founded the Magadha Empire in 600 BC, whose capital was Rajagriha, later Pataliputra, near the present day Patna. This dynasty lasted until 424 BC, when it was overthrown by the Shishunaga dynasty. This period saw the development of two of India's major religions arted from Magadha. Gautama Buddha in the 6th or 5th century BC was the founder of Buddhism, which later spread to East Asia and South-East Asia, while Mahavira revived and propagated the ancient religion of Jainism. Bimbisara was responsible for expanding the boundaries of his kingdom through matrimonial alliances and conquest. The land of Kosala fell to Magadha in this way. Bimbisara (543–493 BCE) was imprisoned and killed by his son Ajatashatru who thus became his successor and is thought to have reigned from 493 to 461 BCE; under his rule the dynasty's territory reached its largest extent.

Licchavi was an ancient republic which existed in what is now Bihar state of India, since before the birth of Mahavira (born 599 BC),[4][5] Vaishali was the capital of the Same place of Bihar Licchavis and the Vajjian Confederacy. The local courtesan Ambapali, famous for her beauty, helped in large measure in making the city prosperous.[6] Ajatashatru went to war with the Licchavi several times. Ajatashatru also moved the capital of the Magadha kingdom from Rajagriha to Pataliputra. Udaybhadra eventually succeeded his father, Ajatashatru; under him Pataliputra became the largest city in the world.

The kingdom endured a series of particularly bloody successions. Anuruddha eventually succeeded Udaybhadra through assassination; his son Munda succeeded him in the same fashion, as in turn did his son Nagadasaka. It is thought that a civil revolt due in part to these murderous dynastic quarrels led to the emergence of the Nanda dynasty.

Shishunaga dynasty[edit]

Main article: Shishunaga dynasty

According to tradition, the Shishunaga dynasty expanded the Magadha Empire in 413 BC. This dynasty was succeeded by the Nanda dynasty. Shishunaga (also called King Sisunaka) was the founder of a dynasty of 10 kings, collectively called the Shishunaga dynasty. The Shishunaga dynasty in its time was one of the largest empires of the Indian subcontinent.

Nanda dynasty[edit]

Main article: Nanda Dynasty
The Nanda Empire at its greatest extent

The Nanda dynasty was established by Mahapadma Nanda, said to be an illegitimate son of king Mahanandin of the previous Shishunaga dynasty. The Nandas are sometimes described as the first empire builders of India. They inherited the large kingdom of Magadha and wished to extend it to yet more distant frontiers. Their empire reached its greatest extent under the leadership of Dhana Nanda, but after his reign the Nandas were replaced by the Maurya dynasty.

Maurya dynasty[edit]

The Maurya Empire at its greatest extent (Ashoka's empire)

In 321 BC, exiled general Chandragupta Maurya founded the Maurya dynasty after overthrowing the reigning Nanda king Dhana Nanda to establish the Maurya Empire. During this time, most of the subcontinent was united under a single government for the first time. Capitalising on the destabilization of northern India by the Persian and Greek incursions, the Mauryan empire under Chandragupta not only conquered most of the Indian subcontinent, but also pushed its boundaries into Persia and Central Asia, conquering the Gandhara region. Chandragupta was succeeded by his son Bindusara, who expanded the kingdom over most of present day India, barring the extreme south and east.

The Buddhist stupa at Sanchi, built during the Mauryan period

The kingdom was inherited by his son Ashoka The Great who initially sought to expand his kingdom. In the aftermath of the carnage caused in the invasion of Kalinga, he renounced bloodshed and pursued a policy of non-violence or ahimsa after converting to Buddhism. The Edicts of Ashoka are the oldest preserved historical documents of India. From Ashoka's time, approximate dating of dynasties becomes possible. The Mauryan dynasty under Ashoka was responsible for the proliferation of Buddhist ideals across the whole of East Asia and South-East Asia, fundamentally altering the history and development of Asia as a whole. Ashoka the Great has been described as one of the greatest rulers the world has seen.

Extent of the Sunga Empire

Sunga dynasty[edit]

Main article: Sunga Empire

The Sunga dynasty was established in 185 BC, about fifty years after Ashoka's death, when the king Brihadratha, the last of the Mauryan rulers, was assassinated by the then commander-in-chief of the Mauryan armed forces, Pushyamitra Sunga, while he was taking the Guard of Honour of his forces. Pushyamitra Sunga then ascended the throne.

Kanva dynasty[edit]

Main article: Kanva dynasty

The Kanva dynasty replaced the Sunga dynasty, and ruled in the eastern part of India from 71 BC to 26 BC. The last ruler of the Sunga dynasty Devbhuti was overthrown by Vasudeva of the Kanva dynasty in 73 BC. The Kanva ruler allowed the kings of the Sunga dynasty to continue to rule in obscurity in a corner of their former dominions. Magadha was ruled by four Kanva rulers. In 60 BC, the southern power swept away both the Kanvas and Sungas and the province of Eastern Malwa was absorbed within the dominions of the conqueror. Following the collapse of the Kanva dynasty, the Satavahana dynasty of the Andhra kingdom replaced the Magandhan kingdom as the most powerful Indian state.

Gupta dynasty[edit]

Main article: Gupta Empire
Gupta Empire (240 to 550 AD)

The Gupta dynasty ruled from around AD 240 to 550. The Gupta Empire was one of the largest political and military empires in ancient India.[7][8] This period has been called the Golden Age of India[9] and was marked by extensive achievements in science, technology, engineering, art, dialectic, literature, logic, mathematics, astronomy, religion, and philosophy that crystallized the elements of what is generally known as Hindu culture.[10] The decimal numeral system, including the concept of zero, was invented in India during this period.[11] The peace and prosperity created under leadership of Guptas enabled the pursuit of scientific and artistic endeavors in India.[12]

The high points of this cultural creativity are magnificent architecture, sculpture, and painting.[13] The Gupta period produced scholars such as Kalidasa, Aryabhata, Varahamihira, Vishnu Sharma, and Vatsyayana who made great advancements in many academic fields.[14] Science and political administration reached new heights during the Gupta era. Strong trade ties also made the region an important cultural center and established it as a base that would influence nearby kingdoms and regions in Burma, Sri Lanka, the Malay Archipelago, and Indochina.

The Gupta period marked a watershed of Indian culture: the Guptas performed Vedic sacrifices to legitimize their rule, but they also patronized Buddhism, which continued to provide an alternative to Brahmanical orthodoxy. The military exploits of the first three rulers—Chandragupta I (c. 319–335), Samudragupta (c. 335–376), and Chandragupta II (c. 376–415) —brought much of India under their leadership.[15] They successfully resisted the northwestern kingdoms until the arrival of the Hunas, who established themselves in Afghanistan by the first half of the 5th century, with their capital at Bamiyan.[16] However, much of the Deccan and southern India were largely unaffected by these events in the north.[17][18]

Kings of Magadha[edit]

Haryanka dynasty (c. 600 – 413 BC)[edit]

  • Bhattiya or
  • Bimbisara (543–491 BC)
  • Ajatashatru (491–460 BC)
  • Udayabhadra
  • Anuruddha
  • Munda
  • Nagadasaka

Shishunaga dynasty (413–345 BC)[edit]

Nanda Dynasty (345–321 BCE)[edit]

Maurya Dynasty (324–184 BC)[edit]

Shunga Dynasty (185–73 BC)[edit]

Kanva Dynasty (73–26 BC)[edit]

  • Vasudeva (c. 73 – c. 66 BCE)
  • Bhumimitra (c. 66 – c. 52 BCE)
  • Narayana (c. 52 – c. 40 BCE)
  • Susarman (c. 40 – c. 26 BCE)

Gupta Dynasty (c. AD 240–550)[edit]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ Ramesh Chandra Majumdar (1977). Ancient India. Motilal Banarsidass Publ. ISBN 81-208-0436-8.
  2. ^ Bronkhorst, Johannes, Greater Magadha, Studies in the Culture of Early India, 2007, Brill Academic Publishers Inc., Handbook of Oriental Studies, section 2, South Asia Series, ISBN 90-04-15719-0
  3. ^
  4. ^ "Licchavi", Encyclopædia Britannica Online
  5. ^ Vaishali, Encyclopædia Britannica Online
  6. ^ Vin.i.268
  7. ^ Gupta Dynasty – MSN Encarta. Archived from the original on 31 October 2009. 
  8. ^ "India – Historical Setting – The Classical Age – Gupta and Harsha". 2 November 2009. Retrieved 16 May 2010. 
  9. ^ "Gupta Dynasty, Golden Age Of India". Retrieved 16 May 2010. 
  10. ^ "The Age of the Guptas and After". 6 June 1999. Retrieved 16 May 2010. 
  11. ^ "Gupta Empire in India, art in the Gupta empire, Indian history". Retrieved 16 May 2010. 
  12. ^ "Gupta dynasty (Indian dynasty)". Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved 16 May 2010. 
  13. ^ "Gupta dynasty: empire in 4th century". Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved 16 May 2010. 
  14. ^ "The Gupta Empire of India | Chandragupta I | Samudragupta". 11 September 2001. Retrieved 16 May 2010. 
  15. ^ "The Story of India – Photo Gallery". PBS. Retrieved 16 May 2010. 
  16. ^ Iaroslav Lebedynsky, "Les Nomades", p172.
  17. ^ Early History of India, p 339, Dr V. A. Smith; See also Early Empire of Central Asia (1939), W. M. McGovern.
  18. ^ Ancient India, 2003, p 650, Dr V. D. Mahajan; History and Culture of Indian People, The Age of Imperial Kanauj, p 50, Dr R. C. Majumdar, Dr A. D. Pusalkar.


  • Raychaudhuri, H.C. (1972). "Political History of Ancient India". Calcutta: University of Calcutta. 

External links[edit]